Amnesty International issued an urgent call for action on Friday for the release of protestors including nine people who are in pre-trial detention and 31 others under house arrest for participating in peaceful protests following the appointment of Professor Melih Bulu as rector of İstanbul’s Boğaziçi University on January 1, 2021.
In a sample letter provided for use by the public, İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor Şaban Yılmaz and Anadolu Chief Public Prosecutor İsmail Uçar are urged to request the immediate and unconditional release of all those deprived of their liberty solely for peacefully exercising their human rights, either in pre-trial detention or house arrest.
Students and alumni as well as politicians and activists have since the beginning of January been protesting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s decision to appoint Bulu, an unsuccessful candidate from Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) for a seat in parliament, as the university’s rector.
The protestors, the majority of them university students, demand the release of previously detained and arrested demonstrators, the resignation of Bulu and the appointment of a rector from the university staff after the holding of an election.
In the Amnesty letter the public prosecutors are also requested to launch “prompt, thorough independent and impartial investigations into all allegations of use of unlawful force and ill-treatment” against protestors in detention.
Turkish courts have put at least 31 protesters under house arrest, and nine are currently in pretrial detention on suspicion of “inciting hatred” and “violating the law on demonstrations” and for “resisting police orders” under Article 216/1 of the Turkish Penal Code.
According to the Turkish Interior Ministry, more than 800 protestors have been taken into police custody throughout Turkey since the start of the protests.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) had previously called on the Turkish government to release the protestors, saying, “… the violent arrests of students who had peacefully protested the move encapsulates the government’s disregard for basic human rights.”
The most recent changes to the appointment of rectors came while Turkey was under a state of emergency after a July 15, 2016 coup attempt. A state of emergency decree (KHK 676) granted the president the authority to appoint rectors, and another decree in 2018 (KHK 703) reduced the requirement for candidates from five years as a professor to three.
Between 2016 and 2018, the government used decree-laws to shut down 15 private universities, dismiss more than 6,800 academics and prosecute hundreds of academics based on alleged terrorism links.